Golf Etiquette Plays No Favorites

Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Whether you’ve got the sweetest swing this side of Hale Irwin, or you can clobber your tee shots farther than Greg Norman, or you can putt for a $5 Nassau with ice water in your veins, or even if you’re ready to alert the press if you break 100, there is one great leveler in the game of golf:

The rules of etiquette while on the course.

Far from being arbitrary or fussy, the rules of etiquette in golf are based on common sense and respect for the course and the play of those around you. They’re intended to keep play safe, simple and, as far as possible, quick.

Based on advice from Orange County golf professionals, here is how to properly conduct your play on a typical hole:


Apart from being familiar with the general rules of golf, you should acquaint yourself with the course layout and the local rules (generally printed on the score card) before you step up to the first tee. It will save time later if a ruling is needed.

As the foursome before you tees off, remain quiet and still until the last person has hit. You must not hit your own tee shot until that foursome has hit its second shot and is out of your range.

Get accustomed to playing “ready golf” when the course is crowded. This means that players should tee off when they are ready and not necessarily in the order of “honors” from the last hole.

If your tee shot flies out of bounds or into a water hazard or impenetrable brush, you must hit a second shot from the tee. If you aren’t sure if it went out of bounds or whether you’ll be able to find it, you should hit a provisional shot from the tee, just in case.


In every instance, the player whose ball is farthest from the hole is the first to hit. However, if there is a delay (in looking for a ball in the rough, for instance, or retrieving a club), other players may hit out of turn in order to speed play.

In the fairway, make sure you are about to hit your own ball. Know your ball’s make and number and be able to identify it before hitting it. It is often easy to hit another player’s ball by mistake.

You should not walk in front or downrange of a player who is about to hit a shot from the fairway. If another player is in the line of your shot, you should warn him before hitting and allow him to get out of the way or stand behind an obstruction, such as a tree. Generally, no player should be downrange from a player about to hit a ball.

Never hit your ball to the green while the foursome in front of you is within range. Wait until they are well off the green before you hit.


If you take a divot on a fairway shot, replace it immediately. Scarring occurs quickly if the turf is not packed back down after a shot.

If your shot lands in a bunker, be sure to rake the sand neatly after you hit out, smoothing all ball marks and footprints.

If your shot hits the surface of the green and creates a divot or any mark, it should be repaired immediately. Use a tee or a ball mark repair tool to fluff up the divot and fill in the hole. Tamp it down gently with your foot. If your spikes scratch the putting surface, tamp the scratches flat with your putter or--again, gently--with your foot. Such damage, if left unrepaired, is costly to correct and drives up the price of green fees.

Leave electric golf cars, pull carts and bags well off the putting surface.


Know where each player’s line of putt is. This is the path the ball is likely to take to the cup. You should avoid stepping on this line.

If a player asks for the pin to be tended, the player whose ball is closest to the hole usually does it. When the pin is finally removed, it should be laid flat on the green so as not to scar the surface.

As unobtrusively as possible, players not putting should line up their putts so that when their turn to putt arrives they can step up to the ball immediately. As on the tee, players should remain silent while others are putting. When everyone has putted out, leave the green right away and allow the foursome behind you to hit up. Mark your score cards on the next tee. Keep track of the foursome in front of you and behind you. If you are falling behind the pace of play, make an effort to speed up.

Yell “fore!” and yell it loudly if a ball you have hit is heading toward another golfer.


Always hold your temper. Accept the fact that bad shots and bad rounds are inevitable, even for professionals.